All posts in: Bluestone Cottage

Here! There! Everywhere!

OH HELLO! It’s June! How did that happen?! There’s so much going on. Let’s run it down in no particular order because my brain’s all over the place.

The gang is back together! Edwin, Edgar and I are in the midst of building a large-and-in-charge wraparound front porch on a circa-1900 house in Kingston! Perhaps I should say rebuilding, since the porch was demolished long ago. So we’re constructing a close resemblance of the original porch, based on the bits of information we have—a few photos, dimensions from old tax assessment records, and the few pieces of the original porch that remained. It’s a big huge project that’s been in the works for a couple of YEARS now, so it’s super exciting that it’s finally happening. It’s also daunting! Partially because it’s HUGE at almost 800 square feet, and partially because it’s a significant addition that will completely change the appearance of this old house and I have to make it look right and like it’s always been there! Part of my job is keeping everyone occupied and PAID, so aside from this big project I’ve also been hustling my ass around town on a bunch of smaller projects that the guys can hit when it rains, or a product order is late, or whatever. It’s kinda a lot to manage.

Let me tell you a story! Last summer, I reluctantly dove into the waters of Instagram Stories while we were working on a different house just outside of Kingston. Admittedly, I’m an extremely rare story-watcher, but evidently I’m a semi-prolific story-maker. It’s fun! It’s easy! As we know by now, as much as I like to write, I frequently struggle with actually having the time to dedicate entire blog posts to stuff that I plan to dedicate entire blog posts to while they’re happening, so Instagram Stories have been a nice alternate way to document things in real time. If you’re not following me already, first of all get your life together, and second of all go find me @DanielKanter. Then just keep an eye out for new posts, I guess! I try to archive the more relevant bits into the Highlights feature at the top of my profile, if you need to catch up a little on the aforementioned porch project.

What’s that you say? A different house outside of Kingston? Yeah! I guess if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you wouldn’t have a way of knowing about the cool quirky old farmhouse the guys and I renovated last summer/fall/winter! Honestly it was another doozy—not quite Olivebridge proportions, but still managed to go from a couple changes and a bunch of sprucing up to a top-to-bottom overhaul of…everything? 2 bathrooms! Kitchen! Laundry! All the rooms! The whole outside! Mechanicals! The bulk of the work ended in February but I just did a final install last week. I have to go back and photograph it but it’s nice to have this 8-week-turned-8-month project off my plate a bit.

Speaking of Olivebridge. If you read even one of those tumultuous posts about the Olivebridge house, I owe you some resolution. We don’t have to get into all the mostly-stupid reasons that hasn’t yet come to pass, but I haven’t forgotten. Honestly the fact that I haven’t blogged about it makes me feel like the book is still open on that project—in spite of the house’s successful completion!—and that feeling sucks so it’s high time to get my shit together on that front. MAYBE IT COULD ACTUALLY BE FUN! At the very least I think it will really and truly feel finished in terms of big life events I’d never want to repeat. Ha!

5 years! So I didn’t even think about it until the day after, but Friday marked the five year anniversary of owning my house! What a journey we’ve been on, this house and I. I still love it. I’m still overwhelmed by it. There are still parts of it I haven’t tackled and a lot of other parts in some stage of progress, but (knock on ALL the wood) I think the worst of the renovation is pretty much over and that feels GOOD. The past 2 years or so were particularly rocky, but it’s finally started to feel like a real home again—my home—and I’m more grateful than ever that I get to call this special house mine.

Laundry! Kitchen! Anticipating that this summer would be exactly as crazy as it’s shaping up to be, I set some concrete goals for myself and my renovation for the first four months of the year. We can talk about this more later, but experience is a valuable thing—and it’s taught me that working on multiple major renovation projects at different properties at the same time is a recipe for inefficiency and frazzled-ness and general misery, but I also obviously can’t just work on my own house all the time. So, I try to give myself a little time between client projects to re-focus on my own stuff and get as much done as I can. May 1st became the goal for having a functioning laundry room, a functioning kitchen, and doing some MAJOR clean-up and space-reclamation everywhere else once the first two items were accomplished and there’d be a bit more room to spread out. I DID IT! Having laundry again is amazing and having it on the second floor lights up my life. The kitchen is FAR from complete, but IT HAS WALLS and electric and plumbing—enough to hook up a sink, move in a few of my old cabinets, and start using the space again AS A KITCHEN for the first time in almost 2 years. And now that my dining room isn’t also a kitchen, and my living room isn’t also an enormous glorified dog kennel, I spent a weekend just rearranging my own shit for hours and now those two rooms look and feel so much better than they have in a LONG TIME. I even had two friends over for dinner! Like I said—still a ton to do, but getting to this point of basic usability feels huge.

So interior progress at my house will slow, but hopefully exterior work will continue. There’s a lot to do on the outside of my house—between gardening on the street-facing sides (and just maintaining what I have!), finally putting the finishing touches on the major exterior work that started last summer and the one before, and trying to get SOMETHING good going on in the backyard, I hope I can bang it out in my “free time” before fall/winter hits again. I’ve already decided that this summer I’m going to skip tearing off more vinyl siding in favor of just polishing off what’s already started—I can’t stand all the loose ends out there right now.

I have a major itch to landscape. Or hardscape maybe, more specifically? Getting the backyard just to square one was so labor-intensive and expensive that gathering the motivation (or setting aside the time, with the house itself needing so much attention!) to do much else with it has been tough. I’ve done two things that helped get my ass in gear, though: first, I asked a friend with a great garden to help me prioritize and plan and make a few decisions. FRIENDS! THEY’RE SO HELPFUL! Second, the Brinson’s invited me last minute to the Trade Secrets garden show in Connecticut, where we toured 3 amazing gardens including living legend Bunny Williams’ property, which I really just need to do a photo-dump kind of blog post about because it was so insanely good. Going to see this stuff IN MY CLIMATE (“omg, I can actually grow that too!!!”) was really valuable and the whole thing was for-real inspiring. Like I literally got home and began construction on a dry-stacked bluestone wall because I just had to get my inspo-overload ya-yas out somehow.

But don’t get carried away about my house, because there’s still Bluestone CottageI feel I owe a longer explanation about this than I want to get into right this instant, but long and short of it is—I MUST finish that house. Personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, financially—it needs to happen. I think I successfully enlisted an electrician last week, and the plumber has finally (sort of) reemerged after beginning the rough-in a YEAR ago, and my own living situation is finally back out of complete shambles, and life will go on and the house will get done and then I can stop feeling shitty about bad decisions I made when I was younger and dumber. Well, at least one of them.

Mekko is the best dog. We’ve also been dealing with some health stuff over the past few months, requiring visits to vet offices in 3 different states and a whole lotta money. It’s certainly not good but seems to be surmountable (yay!), and it’s been stressful and expensive and basically I’m trying to not freak out. I lost one dog 7 months ago. I refuse to entertain that this could resolve any way other than completely fine and she’ll go on to be the longest-living dog on record and then I’ll clone her. So anyway. That’s been awful, no lie, but could be way worse. Surgery, again, this Friday. Sigh.

I’ve bought some stuff. You know, since the last time I showed you some stuff I bought. I like pretty old stuff.

So that’s basically what’s up in my little corner of the world. What’s up in your little corner of the world? Do we want to hear about any of the above items in particular more than others? Watched any good TV lately?

Sink for the Cottage Half Bath!

OOF. I’ve been working on several different posts and a million other things and I can’t seem to get anything done. I’m all over the place. So…hi, folks! Long time no see. Missed ya.

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The big news today? Not that big. I bought another old sink. My life is basically non-stop action and excitement with a heaping scoop of filth thrown in for fun.

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a cute cast iron sink to go down in the half-bath on the first floor of the cottage, and this one fit the bill! It’s probably from the 40s or early 50s, super heavy, and—despite the grime and filth, in excellent shape! I love the simple lines (which to me don’t really scream any particular era—just simple and classic), and the flat section at the top where it’ll meet the wall seems like a perfect spot for a bottle of hand soap and a cup for toothbrushes or whatever. It’s a pretty small bathroom, so I like that this particular sink has that little storage opportunity built-in. I’ll still put in some kind of cabinet or shelving or a medicine cabinet or something, but it’s a start!

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The best part? BOOM. $25 dollars. This entire project has definitely come with some unexpected costs, so saving money here and there on stuff like this really helps keep the budget more in check.

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There’s a few things to think about when buying vintage enameled cast iron fixtures, and the first is really to inspect the condition of the enamel. I don’t mind a little etching and minor staining (which can often be improved with non-abrasive cleaners or plain old white vinegar), but major chips, cracks, or areas of damage—especially where water will hit—will rust and degenerate over time.

Damaged enamel doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a good buy, especially if the shape is super unique or something, but all of the repair solutions that I know about will never really measure up to an original enameled coating. There are epoxy-type patching compounds you can buy at most home improvement stores, which you basically spread on, let dry, and sand smooth, but the finish is never going to look seamless or perfect—it’ll just insulate the cast iron from further rusting. You can also get stuff like this reglazed professionally (typically they come to you, mask everything off, and spray a new coating on the fixtures), which looks nice at first but isn’t all that durable—you generally have to have it redone about once a decade or so, and it scratches and chips fairly easily in the meantime. The most durable solution I know of is sandblasting and powder-coating. In this process, the enamel finish is blasted off until the cast iron is bare, and then the entire thing can be powder-coated, which is essentially a very tough, durable paint treatment that can be done in a million different colors. It also tends to be pretty affordable, but prices vary. That’s the plan for the downstairs bathtub in my house, since it’s in super solid shape overall but the enamel has seen much better days, and I was quoted $300 to have the work done…which is much less than I’d spend on a brand new tub! This is the same process that my pal Anna had done on her bathroom fixtures, a radiator, and some exterior metal work, and all of them have held up beautifully!

I don’t know of a way to actually have something completely re-enameled (anyone?), though, so the best thing is really to try to find fixtures that don’t need this kind of repair work in the first place. It also keeps costs down, duh-sies. This sink is in great shape, so a little scrubbing should take care of it!

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The second thing to think about is the metal cleat that the sink hangs off of. If you’re installing one of these bad boys, bear in mind that they are HEAVY mo-fos and you may have to open your wall and install some wood blocking for the cleat to screw into. Anyway, often vintage sinks get separated from their original cleat. I bought this sink from the Historic Albany Foundation, which is a fun salvage place with good stuff at great prices, and luckily for me they had a big bin of these cleats to peruse, so it was just a matter of finding one that fit! If your sink is still in production (like the Kohler sink I bought a while ago), you may be able to just order the cleat directly from the manufacturer, and if you’re really in a bind, lots of people get them custom-made by a metal shop for a fairly nominal cost. Anyway, there are options! If you love the sink, don’t fret if it doesn’t have the cleat.

By the way, the nice man at the salvage place told me that often you’re better off with a steel cleat than a cast iron one. Cast iron becomes more brittle over time, so sometimes the cleats are cracked or broken either prior to or during installation. I know that rusty little thing looks like bad news, but it’s very solid and I was assured should hold everything just fine.

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Lastly, the taps! As much as I don’t really mind double taps on old sinks, especially for a half-bath, I gotta say I do prefer a single faucet. Often cast iron sinks that are originally made with double taps can be elegantly converted (Anna did this in her bathroom, too), but the cost of the plumbing work and the faucet/knobs/escutcheons definitely adds a few hundred dollars to the price. So potentially your cheap $25 sink really becomes a $300-$400 sink, which is still fine, but maybe not the kind of deal you thought it was.

ANYWAY, I know this thing looks REALLY gross, but I’m guessing some Barkeeper’s Friend and some TLC will clean it up. Maybe a few new little parts, too, but hopefully that won’t be a big deal. The faceted shape of that little faucet is so cute, though, right? I like it.

I’m so glad to report that—I THINK HOPE AND PRAY—winter is pretty much done. There’s still snow on the ground, but it’s melting, and hopefully it won’t be too long before I can really get back to work on the cottage. The lack of heat (or a gas line!) really kind of messed everything up for a few months, but now that we’re more or less out of the danger zone of pipes freezing and stuff, I’m excited to get back in there! Now that things have stalled and dragged out for so long, it’s going to be super exciting to start making real progress again and whipping this place into shape!

Thinking About Flooring in the Cottage

One of the things I find myself thinking about a lot is flooring. I endlessly, relentlessly agonize over what to do with the wood floors in my own house when I eventually refinish them, which is the subject of a whole different post. It’s best to not even get me started on the two bathrooms, either. I mean, the options just seem boundless! I’ve never felt particularly compelled to add another bathroom to my house, but I’ll admit that the idea of just getting to pick out another floor almost makes me want one. Also, sinks. And tubs. And mirrors. Maybe I just want to renovate more bathrooms?

The cottage renovation has sort of sent my obsessive flooring thoughts into overdrive. I have a surplus of floors in my life to worry about. Consequently, I’m losing my mind. Or I’ve lost it already. So let’s think this through together, yeah?

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This is that familiar new view into the cottage when you’re standing at the front door. I’m still really pleased with this new floor plan—I think once the walls go up, it will feel just open enough but still efficient and cozy, like this place needs to be.

The floor has me a little worried, though. In the living room at the front of the house, there’s flooring that appears to be yellow pine. It’s in really, really rough shape, but I actually think it would refinish OK. There’s some significant patch work to do on areas where boards are missing or too damaged, but it would be doable. Another thing to keep in the back of your mind is that these floors run side to side.

Aside from that, the other notable thing about this floor is that it’s laid directly on top of the joists, underneath which is an uninsulated crawlspace. I know using an original subfloor as flooring isn’t all that abnormal in old house renovations, but I also worry about having just 3/4″ of wood between feet and a cold crawlspace in the winter. It seems potentially uncomfortable and potentially inefficient from a heating standpoint.

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The real problems start in the dining room, which is the original part of the structure. This flooring also appears to be yellow pine, but the boards are a bit thinner than in the living room. They’re laid on top of an original pine subfloor—I think it’s hard to tell from the picture, but this means that they sit about 3/4″ higher than the flooring in the living room, which isn’t so ideal. It also means that the boards run the same way that the joists do—back to front—meaning that the flooring runs perpendicular to the living room planks. So that’s kind of Issue #1 and Issue #2: the height differential between the floors is less than ideal, and the opposing directions just makes things feel sort of choppy and awkward.

Then there’s the fact that during the framing extravaganza, the dining room wall actually moved over a few inches in order to effectively support the joists on either side of the beam in the ceiling. So all of the dining room flooring actually ends a few inches before the wall, which would be a very tricky thing to patch in and repair without it looking strange. I’d probably just end up running a couple of boards perpendicular to fill the gap, but it’s not the most glamorous solution. I’m worried about it all ending up looking a little patchwork-y.

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The other thing about the dining room floor is that it’s in bad shape. I think most of it would still refinish OK, but there’s definitely some advanced water damage in certain areas, and those boards would need to be replaced and new boards feathered in. Not a huge deal cost-wise, but it is just a lot of labor to put into this floor that I have other issues with already.

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Then we have the kitchen. Now, it used to be that the flooring in the dining room ran continuously into the kitchen (which was covered in layers and layers of glued down linoleum, but still…), but unfortunately about 25% of it was way too rotted to save due to water damage, and the rest had to come up to address the structural issues, also due to the water damage…and then whatever was potentially salvageable got accidentally thrown away during a particularly insane day of demo. Anyway, the point is that there’s no floor at all in here anymore.

So where does that leave us? By my calculations, it looks like this: even if I did a good patch job on all the existing hardwoods, then put down something new in the kitchen, we’re still left with three different types of flooring, at two different levels, running through 3 rooms on this main floor, which bear in mind is only 600 square feet. I don’t know about you, but to me that just sounds…crappy.

I think there’s a solution. If I take up the top layer of the dining room floor, the original subfloor should be the same height as the existing flooring in the living room. After I put a new 3/4″ plywood subfloor down in the kitchen, everything is on the same level…and then a new, continuous floor could be laid over everything. I like this solution for a few reasons. Firstly, it would mean running all the boards from back to front, which I think would visually make the first floor appear a bit more expansive than it is. Secondly, the main floor doesn’t get a ton of natural light. Coupled with the low ceilings, I’ll admit I’m a little anxious about it feeling too dark. The condition of the existing floors and the fact that there’d have to be a lot of patch work to salvage them pretty much guarantees that I’d have to stain them fairly dark, which I’m not super inclined to do in a space that’s already kind of dark. New flooring could be left natural and sealed, which would just keep things lighter. Third, I think new flooring throughout would go a long way toward unifying the spaces. I don’t want the house to feel choppy, and I don’t want all the work that is going into it to feel too apparent. Patchy floors make it pretty clear that a wall used to be here, and a doorway used to be there—that kind of thing—and I’d rather avoid that feeling here.

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One of the things I love about the cottage and I’m trying to respect in the renovation is the modesty of the house—the size, the style, the scale of the rooms, etc. I definitely want to carry that idea through to the materials, which is convenient because it saves me money and will look appropriate. In that vein, I love the idea of doing a simple wide-plank pine floor in here! The size of the boards would actually approximate the original 19th-century subfloor in the dining room, which I feel is a nice nod to the history of the house, and the knots and “imperfections” in the boards would lend some nice character for the more informal, cozy cabin vibe that I think this house wants to have.

Luckily, this stuff is cheap! Admittedly I haven’t done really any hunting around, so maybe there’s an even better price out there, but a quick look at Lumber Liquidators has this flooring coming in at $1.39/square foot! That’s pretty damn good for real hardwood. Even factoring in the extra 20% that I guess you’re supposed to order when you install hardwood, the floor would clock in at right around $1,000. I’m pretty confident that installing it myself wouldn’t be a big deal, so then I’d just be paying a bit more for tool rentals and polyurethane and stuff (some of which I’d need with the refinishing option anyway). Seems very worth it, right?

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SO. I think my mind is pretty made up about the first floor. Which still leaves the second floor. Specifically, the bathroom.

The floors up here are the same yellow pine as on the first floor, and they’re in good shape. There’s definitely some patching to do to seal up some big holes and stuff, and they really need to be refinished, obviously, but I think they’ll clean up just fine. The second floor gets more natural light than the first, so I’m not even that concerned about staining them dark if necessary.

Obviously I don’t have a lot of hesitation about putting a wood floor in the kitchen or even the powder room on the first floor—I know people tend to be really anxious about using wood in spaces like that, but I’m not really one of them—but I keep going back and forth on whether I should replace the floor in the bathroom. I’ve never lived with a wood floor in a bathroom, so I can’t personally speak to the practicality of living with one, but I know some people are fine with it and some people wouldn’t dream of it. Honestly, I don’t really know where I stand! I guess if this room didn’t already have a wood floor, I’m pretty positive I wouldn’t put one in…but since it does…

Part of me feels like the floor is in good shape, and there isn’t really a reason to incur the expense/hassle of ripping it up and replacing it with tile. The other part of me feels like a potential buyer might not really want their only full bathroom to have a wood floor…and maybe this imaginary person has a point? Then I remember that radiant floor heating exists, and think about how fancy and luxurious it would be to put that under a new tile floor in the bathroom. Then I think about the previously unforeseen expense of replacing the floors on the first floor, and that the easy and responsible thing to do would be to make up for it by cutting a tiled floor for this bathroom from the renovation plan. Then I worry that I’m being penny-wise but pound-foolish because maybe somebody will really like this house but feel like a major corner was cut by not tiling the bathroom, or maybe a radiant-heated floor in the bathroom would put some other person just totally over the edge of wanting this place. Then I remind myself that if it’s that big of a deal to somebody, they could always tile the floor at some point in the future.

This is what I think about. A lot. Round and round I go.

So here’s a hypothetical. Would the only full bathroom in a house having a wood floor be a deal breaker for you? Would you prefer it? And hey—if you have a wood floor in your bathroom, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

Kohler Brockway Sink in the Cottage Bathroom!

Once in a while, one of the really awesome benefits of having this blog is that it’s kind of like I have more eyes thrifting for me. This kind of thing is a relatively rare occurrence—I’m not that fancy—but I do feel extra super lucky when I get an email or a tweet or a comment from a reader letting me know that they spotted this or that in a thrift store or on eBay or Craigslist and thought I might be interested.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about that nice rosewood credenza that a very kind and neighborly reader named Priscilla found and put on hold for me at a thrift store. That was really awesome when that happened. Priscilla has been kind enough to text me every now and then if she see’s something while she’s out and about…and girlfriend just went and did it AGAIN.

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So one day while I was busy working on the living room at my house, Priscilla texted me a picture of this 3-foot wide enameled cast iron double sink over at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, asking if I wanted it since she couldn’t think of a reason to buy it herself. I don’t need it for my house, and it didn’t really fit into the cottage plan either, but come on…that’s a good-looking sink! Originally I was planning on doing some kind of double vanity/double sink situation in the full bath at the cottage, but after thinking it over for a few minutes and looking at a few pictures of this model in use, I started to get really excited about using this instead. The holes accommodate 2 separate faucets, so it has the functionality of double sinks but the simplicity and glamor of a single basin. What’s not to love?

I don’t know how old this particular sink is, but it’s actually still in production! It’s made by Kohler and is called the Brockway—looks like it retails for between about $1,200-$1,600, depending on the source. Mine was only $175! Such a score. It didn’t come with faucets, mounting hardware, or the soap dish that goes in the middle, so that’ll add a few hundred dollars, but that’s OK—it can all be ordered separately from Kohler, which is really nice. I don’t have the budget that would allow for buying this kind of thing new, so it’s exciting to be able to put something so high-quality in this house that will hopefully stay with it for a long, long time.

This sink feels especially meaningful because back in October, Kohler held a small conference for bloggers at their headquarters in Kohler, Wisconsin, which I had the pleasure of attending! Admittedly, I went into the trip knowing next to nothing about Kohler as a company (other than that they made my toilet, which I like…), but I had such an appreciation for them by the time I left. What really struck me was how Kohler has balanced almost 150 years of design innovation (they started by making enameled cast iron bathtubs in 1873!) with a real respect for historic styles and production methods—something that seems really out of the ordinary for such a large, international company.

We got to spend some time in a museum area of one of the Kohler buildings, and while it was interesting to see how much things have changed over almost 150 years in business, it was even more amazing to see how much has stayed the same. They still produce almost everything out of their Wisconsin factories, including so many classic styles that are really nicely suited to historic renovations. It made me so happy to see all that stuff right alongside their sleeker, more modern designs. On the last day, we even got to tour the factories, and I think the highlight for a lot of us was seeing the cast iron goods being made. In my admittedly nerdy sort of way, I like having this sink because I’ve seen firsthand exactly how it was made…coming out of the oven glowing red-hot, hot enough to melt the powdered glass particles that get sprayed on it to form the enameled surface…SO COOL. I wish I could go back, like, once a month.

ANYWAY. Want to take a look at how great this sink looks in a bathroom? Yeah, I do too.

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From Country Living / Photos by Max Kim-Bee (click photo for link)

I really like this picture because it’s so much of what I can envision for the cottage bathroom! I’ve been thinking a lot about plank walls for the entire upstairs space, including parts of the bathroom that wouldn’t be tiled. The reclaimed wood shelf, the mirror, the sconce situation…it’s all just so nice!

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From House Beautiful / Photo by Alec Hemer (click photo for link)

What’s better than one double sink? TWO DOUBLE SINKS. So much sink action. And oh hey look, more plank walls! And a plank ceiling! And…BRASS. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the Cannock faucet that’s recommended to go with the sink (maybe I’d like it more in real life?), but I do really like these, and the brass factor just puts it over the top. I’ve never actually seen all-brass traps and supply lines in the real world, but damn. That looks great. Plumbing fantasies.

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From Remodelista / Photo by Sean Slattery (click photo for link)

Hot DAMN, this bathroom. Sooooooo gooooooood. I sort of laughed when I saw this photo because the subway tiles and black hex floor tiles are also things I’ve been mentally tossing around for the cottage bathroom. Although my tiles would be ceramic and these look to be marble, but whatever. Oh, and I see you, skinny beautiful black radiator. And those cabinets. And that gorgeous tub. GUH. But the sink looks amazing, right? Right. It’s such a versatile piece.

Looking at these fancy bathrooms makes going to my bathroom feel kind of like taking a dump in a porta potty on a hot summer day, but I don’t even care.

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So there. Obviously this bathroom has a ways to go before this sink can have its moment to shine, but it feels motivating to have it now, while I still have some time to plan. It makes me so excited to see it come together! Now to just find myself a tub…

Hunting Radiators

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People say it all the time: during any renovation, surprises happen. Curveballs, if you prefer that kind of athletic terminology. I do not because I do not enjoy sports.

The cottage renovation has been almost eerily lacking in them, all things considered. Yes, there was the rotted sill plate that needed to be replaced in the front, and I guess the original wall framing inside was worse than anticipated, and there’s the ongoing lack of gas service, but…is that it? I don’t really know what I was expecting. Maybe it’s just what you get when you buy a condemned shell of a house…you kind of expect everything to be disastrous so it feels like a little bonus when certain aspects are actually pretty OK. It’s possible my definition of “OK” has just gotten a little skewed and kooky.

I fully admit, own, and embrace that I am not an expert on…really anything. During the early planning stages of the renovation (which started pre-purchase, since I had to figure out a budget and all that…), I met my plumber, Carl, at the cottage to talk about the plumbing and the heat system in the house—namely, that there was none, and we’d be starting from scratch. I remember offering that the intelligent and modern thing to do would be to install a forced air system for heat, and I remember him quickly agreeing with me that this would be the correct and most cost-effective solution.

BAM. I know, you don’t have to tell me how hip and with it I am. I was even a little excited about the new fancy forced air system that this house would have because, for some extra cash, it could also be an A/C system! AIR. CONDITIONING. In an old house. This place was basically shaping up to be a fucking SPA.

So that was the plan. Now you know.

Fast-forward warp-speed-style to a couple of weeks ago. Demo is done, new framing is done, I’ve switched to present tense, and I ask Carl if we can get going on installing the ducts and the furnace. That way, everything will be in place when the dumb gas line finally decides to materialize. So Carl sends some of his dudes over to the house that evening. I meet them there.

Carl has several dudes who work for him. I really like them all. They’re funny and smart and they are all OBSESSED with Mekko and in general we just have a nice time getting frustrated about plumbing. Plumbing is really frustrating in general so you can choose to be a dick all the time or you can choose to be a cool and groovy dude. These are cool and groovy types. I know how most of them take their coffee so I consider us all very good friends at this point.

Anyway. Dudes walk through newly-gutted, newly-reframed house. Dudes exchange worried looks.

“And you said you wanted to put forced air in here?”

There’s this one guy who works for Carl who I would still say is pretty cool but his attitude is not so groovy. He’s what we call crotchety. On the surface he sort of seems to hate everything and everyone but I know he’s really a softie. We’ll call him Joe.

“No fucking way you’re running ducts in this house,” says Joe. “No way, no how.” He’s visibly angry already, just at the prospect of even attempting the job.

I ask him to elaborate.

The basic gist of the story is that in a house with no attic and only a partial basement, running the necessary ductwork from room to room becomes much more complicated, so almost everything has to be run within the living spaces—not above or below them. With framing to accommodate the ducts, this isn’t really a problem…but this is a small house with 7.5 foot ceilings. Joe begins mapping his best guess of how the ducts would need to be run: through a chase that would need to be built in this corner, across a soffit on this wall…the picture he paints takes up a lot of space and looks super ugly. He quickly gets flustered and goes out to the van to smoke a Newport.

One of the guys calls Carl. Carl says he’ll be on his way as soon as he gets done with whatever he’s doing.

Joe sits in the van and smokes. Me and the other guys stand around outside, where it’s a little bit lighter, and shoot the shit. We talk about the neighborhood, about Kingston, about the house, about their haircare regimens, about cars, about their pocket-knives, about how cold it is. Eventually, Carl shows. We all go back inside, cellphone flashlights activated.

Carl looks around. He explains that the forced air system isn’t impossible, but would involve some soffits and chases and custom ductwork, meaning added cost. At one point he just stops. “Wait, why do you want forced air in here, anyway?”

“I just thought that’s what people did.”

“Honestly, you’d be better off with radiators. A lot easier to snake pipes than run all these ducts. We can do the same system we put in your house.”

“Like…baseboard radiators?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Allow me to explain something: I have this thing about baseboard radiators, and the thing is that I dislike them. I don’t mean that to make anybody feel badly about their baseboard radiators. I know full well that I sound like a dick. It just seems like they take up too much space, the heat they radiate isn’t all that nice, and they somehow look neither vintage/interesting nor modern/inconspicuous. The thought of putting them in this house (particularly since I’ve just finished removing vestiges of the former, defunct baseboard radiator system) makes me sad and upset.

Then I have a Dangerous Idea.

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“Carl,” I ask, “is there any big difference from your perspective if I wanted to use old cast iron radiators instead? If I bought them all and got them in the house and everything?”

“No, not really. If that’s what you want.”

Even though I don’t love baseboard radiators, I do love old cast iron radiators. They’re beautiful, they’re effective, and the heat they give off is comfortable and gentle. They also just add instant character to a room, which is something this house is going to need.

So, yeah…I’ve made it my mission to find, purchase, and move about 7 vintage cast iron radiators for this house. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen/heard of this being done, so I guess we’ll all find out together how it works out.

I’m an idiot.

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Naturally, this exciting choice of mine has turned out to be more complicated than I initially thought. This is because I don’t always think things through. My first instinct was basically to measure the spots in the house where a radiator could/should reasonably go, then find a radiator that would fill the space nicely and look good in said spot.

Wrong. Wrong strategy. I even spent a couple hours shopping, picked out a bunch of radiators, and got the dude to quote me a price armed with only this information. It wasn’t one of my more intelligent moments, but I didn’t buy them so I guess that’s something.

As it turns out, sizing radiators is actually a fairly exact and math-y thing that involves more than saying “yeah, that’d look good under that window.” Go figure.

Here’s what I’ve deduced with a little help from the internet and a little help from Carl:

1. The first thing you need to do is figure out the BTUs (British Thermal Units) required to effectively heat a room. This depends on many factors about the room itself, but luckily there are online calculators out there to help you take those factors into account and figure it out. I used this one. Using my SketchUp models as a guide, I went through the cottage room by room and figured out the BTUs required to heat each space. Then I wrote them all down in a notebook for easy reference while I’m shopping.

2. When shopping for radiators, you need to know how to calculate the BTUs per hour that a given radiator will produce. You do this by calculating the square footage of the surface area of a radiator (which depends on whether it is tube-type or column-type, its height, depth, and number of sections), and then multiplying that number by the heat emission rate per square foot, which is reliant on the water temperature produced by the boiler (hot water standard is 170 BTUs/hr, steam is 240 BTUs/hr). This guide makes things pretty straightforward.

3. Make sure you can identify the difference between steam radiators and hot water radiators. I think the easiest way to do this is to look at the ends. Hot water radiators should have a pipe at either end for the supply and return. Steam radiators have one pipe because they only need a supply line. I’ll be installing a hot water system because it’s easier and more efficient.

4. It’s better to be too big than too small (har, har). Temperature to the system can be decreased but not increased beyond the standard capacity of the boiler. Just be careful because you don’t want one radiator that’s too oversized and the rest to be correctly sized—this is what leads to big temperature discrepancies between different spaces.

 

ANYWAY. This is what I’ve learned…or at least I think I’ve learned. Now I have to go find them! Hopefully it won’t be too bad. I’m aiming to spend $1,000-$1,500 for all the radiators. They aren’t super expensive but they aren’t cheap either. Luckily this is a modest house, which means modest radiators—nothing super ornate or fancy looking, which is more expensive.

Even though I’ve been looking at Craigslist a fair amount, I think my best bet is a good salvage place that will just have a ton of selection. The size guidelines of the radiators combined with the space constraints of the house means that I’ll have to be looking for pretty specific radiators—in other words, I need them to be effective and fit in their designated spots. It feels like a tall order, but possible!

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